We ran bloody, battered and defeated. It’s amazing how fast you can run with a hoard of screaming Millwall fans hot on your heels, even with several pints of lager inside you. I dashed down an alley and chanced a look over my shoulder. I seemed to have lost the lads but at least there was no sign of the Millwall firm. I leaned against a wall and panting slowly regained my breath. It had been a reasonable day. We had won at the football which was always a bonus. The planned meet with the Millwall crew did not go so well though. Frankly, we had gotten a pasting and ended up legging it. To be fair to us it was their manor and they had much greater numbers. I looked around in the fading light, it was not so much an alley as a very narrow street. I wandered slowly down it, limping slightly. Some bastard with hobnail boots had kicked me repeatedly. It’s a risk you took being in City’s firm. I spied a little pub at the end of the street. Well, I had missed my fucking train so I might as well have a beer and find a hotel.The pub was a scruffy looking building, but then it would be down a seedy little street in the shite part of town wouldn’t it? I pushed open the scratched, beaten door and wandered inside. The place was a typical back street pub. The tables were wonky, many with a beer mat under one leg. A worn dart board hung forlornly on one wall. A scuffed pool table that had seen better days lurked in one corner. At the bar were several mismatched bar stools. I slowly limped over to the bar taking in my surroundings. I had been in a thousand pubs like it and would probably go in a thousand more. The barmaid looked me up and down taking in my ragged and battered appearance.
“What can I get you?” She asked.
“Pint of Carling please love.”
She was young and fresh faced with a pleasant smile. Not a career barmaid I guessed. I sat down heavily on a stool with a sigh. Glancing around I noticed the pubs only other patrons were a group of old geezers in the corner who were playing dominoes. The occasional laugh drifted over to me from them. I smiled at the barmaid as she put down the pint down before me, thanked her and paid.
“Where did you dig up the fossils?” I asked nodding towards the oldsters in the corner.
She frowned at me, “They come in here once a fortnight. They’re all ex-service men from the same regiment. I think its lovely how they’ve kept in touch after all these years.”
Obviously my old fossil comment had not gone down well judging by her tone of voice. We chatted for a moment or two and I went to sit at a table near the old guys. I grabbed my phone from my pocket and started searching for a hotel online. Hopefully, I could find a B&B or hotel with a vacancy within walking distance.
“Hey lad if they’re beaming you up to the mother ship pass me that lager before you go.”
An oldster grinned over at me in a friendly fashion. His eyes twinkled with half-cut mischief and he winked at me. He had a long ragged scar down his cheek that was faded to a pale line with age. A few wisps of grey hair clung onto his scalp for dear life.
“Just be careful I don’t beam you up with me for some experiments.” I said with a smile.
“You look like you’ve had a rough day lad, why don’t you join us for a game of dominoes?”
Why not? I had nothing better to do. I took a spare seat next to them and waited for the current game to finish before I joined the “action” sipping thoughtfully at my lager. The old geezers chatted, joked and wound each other up. I sensed a strong bond beneath all the playful banter. I played a game or two of dominoes, drank more lager and chatted.
“So you guys were all in the forces together?”
“Aye lad” Said Jim, the scarred faced guy who had asked me over. “We all saw action in the Coldstream Guards.”
“Aye, some of us more than others.” Said a stocky old guy called Bert holding up a hand to show me a space where his index finger had once been.
“Ignore him lad he likes to show off his stump whenever he gets a chance.” Grinned their friend Chas.
“And his hand” quipped Jim laughing. They all cracked up at this.
The night drew on and the more I chatted the more I envied these old guys their sense of kinship. They told me tale after tale of their exploits from the war. They spoke of friends lost to the enemy, to cancer and old age. I realised the sense of belonging I got from the firm was a sham compared to what these guys had. A sense of brotherhood. To look out for your mates was one thing but to put your life on the line for each other time and again, no wonder they had a strong bond spanning decades. Me? What had I done other than crack a few heads under the thinly veiled excuse of being a football fan. I suddenly felt ashamed of the things I had done just to gain a false sense of comradeship. I knew then what I had to do in order to get my life on track and I would first thing on Monday morning. I could feel the lager getting the better of my bladder and stumbled towards the gents.
I stood contemplating my life at the urinal, as you do, and enjoyed the feel of my bladder emptying with a sigh. I heard the door open and suddenly a whistling sound and I crumpled to the floor in a shower of piss as something hit me hard behind my knees, my head cracked hard against the wall as I went down. I look up with blurred vision to see a crowd of figures above me. The last thing I felt as I lost consciousness was the sting of repeated kicks and a malformed hand reaching into my trousers to retrieve my wallet.
Darren Sant is a writer from Stoke who moved to Hull to avoid the ravening hoards only to find they’d beaten him to it.
He has previously been published in Byker Books excellent series Radgepacket.